After the final whistle blew in Dortmund today, I like many of you, needed a few minutes to collect my head. Following a high-octane first half from Borussia Dortmund where chances peppered the opposition goal, Mainz returned from the break with some fire in their hearts. Dortmund failed to produce an equal response and soon found themselves behind due to a phenomenal strike from Levin Öztunalı. Following the goal, the old BVB re-emerged; lack of ideas in attack, frailty in the defense, and a general lack of direction. Dortmund legend and ESPN commentator Patrick Owomoyela summarized it best, saying “It looks like someone pulled the plug somewhere” in reference to Dortmund’s play.
At the 73rd minute, we saw some life as Youssoufa Moukoko attempted to cut the ball back from the goal line, and it fell kindly enough for Thomas Meunier to smack it home. The Belgian was then bowled over in the box a minute later for a penalty which, as the story goes, was dragged wide by BVB talisman Marco Reus. Dortmund pressed hard past this point, but as determination fell to desperation, it was clear Die Schwarzgelben did not have the guile to pull ahead, and the final whistle blew for a dismal draw.
Now that I have all the expletives out of my system, here are some takeaways from today’s match:
A Quality Outing for Thomas Meunier
Beginning on a positive note, today was a match to remember for Thomas Meunier, even if Dortmund did not come away with three points. For what felt like the first time, he was able to link up nicely with Jadon Sancho almost to immediate and devastating effect. Meunier laid on a beautiful cross for Haaland in the second minute of the game, only for the ensuing goal to be called back for offsides. It was a brilliant start that set the tone for the half, and Meunier’s early work make that possible. In the second half he continue to give everything he had, nearly single-handedly dragging Dortmund into the lead, scoring then drawing the penalty only a minute later.
Toward the end of the game he had clearly grown tired, but seeing the midfielders looking to Meunier as a wide option to spread the play and create opportunities was exciting to see, and hopefully the high energy play of Terzic’s tactics will help Meunier solidify his role in the team.
The Tale of Two Halves
In the match preview I said, “It will likely be down to how clinically BVB performs in front of goal to determine the outcome of the match.” Dortmund were electric in the first half, barely giving Mainz a chance on the ball, but as chance after chance when begging, heading into halftime scoreless felt like an underachievement. Credit should be given to goalkeeper Robin Zentner for his performance (something I will come back to), but BVB’s failure to convert in the first half punished them in the second.
High energy gave way to turn-over after turn-over, so much so that Mats Hummels could be seen chastising the forwards for all the pressure they were putting him under. Dortmund’s gameplay crumbled in the second half, quite the opposite of last weekend where it look the halftime break to get the team going. First-to-second half consistency has plagued Dortmund all season, but in the last two games it has seemed even more polarized.
Is a tie to Mainz the worst thing to even happen to Borussia Dortmund? No. Will Marco Reus’s missed penalty be looked back on in June as the defining moment of the season? Doubt it. But without making too grand a claim, Dortmund’s inability to dispatch lower table teams has garnered a reputation for fragility that could be hard to shake. I fully anticipate that Dortmund will bounce back to great effect in the coming weeks, but being a team that challenges for silverware means striking fear into the hearts of the opposition number, especially those teams who are lower in the table.
With each failure to beat lower table teams, others gain confidence that Dortmund is a vulnerable side with clear weaknesses to exploit. As I mentioned, credit is due to Robin Zentner for his performance today, but it is up to BVB to get past him, plain and simple. Tame efforts from Brandt, Reus, and Sancho did as much to keep the team out of the game as did Robin Zentner. Whether this is a problem to be solved on the training ground or in the locker room is hard to speculate, but the leaders on the field needs to help the team remind the league that Dortmund will roll over everyone who comes in their way.
If Dortmund continue to beat the big dogs but falter to lesser opponents, we may get relegated but as least we should also win the Champions League!